Top NBA Stars Who Turned to Poker


Top NBA Stars Who Turned to Poker

While it is commonly accepted that athletes don’t make great gamblers, they sure do like to try their luck! Plenty of NBA stars have been attracted to the world of professional poker, with some even seeing a fair bit of success on the felt.

These are just a few of the NBA greats that have been found to be rubbing shoulders and mixing chips with some of the best poker pros in the world.

Michael Jordan

Ask anyone who the greatest basketball player of all time is. Most of the time, the answer will be Michael Jordan. It is a well-documented fact that his skills don’t extend to other sports – but he has had a more successful poker career than many of other NBA stars on our list, having cashed in 10 poker tournaments from 2006 to 2016.

In fact, rumour has it that Michael Jordan was more interested in playing poker than basketball during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. It is reported that he and his Dream Teammate Magic Johnson stayed up until 6am on the night of one of their games, engaged in a high-stakes poker tournament.

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce was first seen at the World Series of Poker in 2013. He entered the $10 000 Pot-Limit Omaha Championship and he fared quite well.

Within the first few hours, he was one of the top 10 chip leaders with just over 140 players left – but he didn’t last much longer after losing a straight to Nadar Kakhmazov. Unfortunately, his luck didn’t improve in the Main Event that year, as Pierce finished in 800th place where only the top 653 places paid out.

Going into the event, he was optimistic and excited. We hope that he has maintained that attitude and continues to play poker. It would be a shame for him to lose this kind of attitude:

“It would be an unbelievable feeling to get my picture here on the poker wall of fame. Most athletes aren't really considered great poker players but I'm going to change that”.

Gilbert Arenas

Gilbert Arenas got his professional start in poker in 2014, when he entered the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure as one of 295 players. He didn’t make it very far, busting halfway through his first day when he accidentally raised when he meant to call. Fortunately, the $10 300 buy-in was barely a drop in the bucket after Arenas signed a $111 million six-year contract with the Washington Wizards.

However, that experience doesn’t seem to have deterred him from continuing to play poker. Arenas continues to play private games, practicing is skills out of the public eye.

Shawn Marion

Shawn Marion is a regular in poker tournaments. In 2010, he made his first appearance at the World Series of Poker but failed to make Day 2. He tweeted, “cash games and tournaments are completely different,” but vowed to return the following year. It seems he did spend a fair amount of time practicing in cash games, as he played the Thackerville River Poker Series in 2016 and placed an admirable fifth for a prize worth over $5,000.

Tony Parker

Tony Parker, who is best known for leading the Spurs to the Championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007, is one of the few basketball players to represent a major poker operator.

In 2010, the NBA superstar signed a deal with French online poker site BetClic after the brand recognised his “strong values of excellence and ethics in sports”. Not to mention – Parker was known to be a talented poker player in both private games and tournaments.

Earl Barron

Earl Barron is one of the more successful NBA players in the poker world. In 2015, the Phoenix Suns power forward entered the WSOP Millionaire Maker event where he showed an excellent bankroll management strategy. The high-roller tournament boasted a buy-in of $1500, and saw over 7,000 entries as one of the biggest events in the series so far. While he failed to make add another million on to his salary, Barron walked away with a respectable $3,044 prize for finishing in 613rd place.

Russell Westbrook

As the favourite for Most Valuable Player in 2018, you would think that Russell Westbrook would spend most of his time on the court, in practice and training.

However, he seems to find more excitement on the felt as he has stated that he tends to play poker when he should be training. In the lead-up to a game, most players study footage of their competitors – but Westbook prefers to spend his time playing poker.

“I don’t worry about other people. Usually I just sit out and chill, relax, I play poker on my phone, play spades on my phone, listen to music,” Westbrook told reporters.

While he hasn’t participated in professional tournaments yet, we do know that he takes part in private high-stakes games. In fact, he has played with Phil Hellmuth who said that Westbrook plays like a professional.

David Lee

David Lee, who won his first NBA Championship in 2015 when the Golden State Warriors defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers, also has some experience with The Poker Brat.

In 2015, Hellmuth admitted to losing $32 000 to Lee in a game of poker. In fact, he’s engaged to Sabina Gadecki, host of the World Poker Tour series on the Travel Channel.

In recent years, we have seen athletes from all types of sports become drawn to the high-stakes world of poker. As sports superstars like Christiano Ronaldo, Shane Warne and Rafael Nadal continue to compete in all types of poker games around the world, we are sure to see more basketball players jumping on the bandwagon, trying their hand at a very different kind of game of skill.